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From Saraqeb, the Sound of a Radio Start-up

Ahmed shares his stories from running Radio Alwan, a talk radio station in the Syrian city of Saraqeb. .

Written by Omar Hossino Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

As it slipped from government control Saraqeb saw a boom in independent media, says Ahmed; the city is now home to newspapers like the weekly al-Zaytun, a number of start-up magazines, and newspapers aimed at children. Before launching Radio Alwan, Ahmed organized protests and coordinated civil society groups in Idlib province. Radio Alwan is on Facebook <a href=”” target=”_blank”>here</a>.

Radio Alwan is run by a group of Syrian youths who are concerned with a broad range of issues and dream of a better country for all Syrians. Radio is the best way to reach a large number of people in Syria. By broadcasting over FM waves, we can reach almost every single household, even when electricity is cut off.

We want to give people access to mature ways of thinking and moderate voices. Our radio station is based on the principle of tolerance, and aims to support and strengthen civil society. One of our major goals is to get people out of the state of depression that they are in during these very hard times. Our programs give a hopeful message and play music.

We aim to connect with the average citizen. We try to figure out their problems and complaints. We have been able to connect humanitarian groups, local councils and those responsible for public services with the general population in our region. We try to solve their issues. One of our other goals is to strengthen civil thinking and reject the idea of revenge, and educate our citizens about their rights with programs that use language that’s easy to understand.

In April, we first we went live for three hours per day. We increased to four by May, then six in July. This weekend we will begin broadcasting for 10 hours per day. Our signal is 93.3 FM, you can hear our radio in almost all of Idlib province. And all of Syria can listen to it online, on Facebook.

We have a team of 15 people working on the station inside Syria. Not all of us are in Idlib; some are in Damascus, Hamah and Latakia. Most of the people who work with us outside of Idlib province do so in secret. They cannot say who they are because the government still controls some of those areas.

One of our most important programs is called “It’s Your Right!” It connects civilians with the activists who are supposed to serve them in the local councils of Idlib – those who work with electricity, water, services or humanitarian aid. It lets people say what the councils are doing wrong.

There is another called “The Street Talks,” where we go to the streets and ask people their thoughts on different questions, and people speak and share their opinions. People love it, because we haven’t really had media experience before in Syria where people could just go on the radio and say what they wanted [without fear of government retribution].

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A program called “Abu Ahmad’s Days!” is about Abu Ahmad, an average citizen, who lost his job because of the war. He talks about the problems that he sees everyday. He gets in fights with his wife because he doesn’t have any money. Abu Ahmad talks about his kids and how at first they got mad that he went to sell the family television, but there was no electricity to power it anyway.

We don’t have any religious programs. We haven’t really had any problems with Salafi groups or extremists being upset that we play music. [But] perhaps some of them will get upset at a new program that will talk about the original, democratic intents of the revolution.

Our idea is to get the voice of the people out there. It is normal to hear opinions on the street and to hear people debating – someone will say we need to focus on the original democratic principles of the revolution, and another will say no.

Our most popular program was “I Want To Talk: Get Ready.” It was a very early program that would criticize the opposition in a comedic way. People really loved this show. Whenever we walked in the streets we heard lots of people saying “I want to talk, I want to talk!” – the show’s catch phrase.

We worked on it for two months, but then one of the presenters died; a barrel bomb was dropped on his house. I was extremely upset about it and I didn’t want anyone else to take his place, so we ended the program.

Usually we can’t record when there is shelling and bombing coming from outside. It’s really hard to record radio when there is bombing going on, you can hear it on tape. Though sometimes if it is a debate show we’ll just leave the sounds of the bombs on the recording.


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